“Necessity is the mother of all invention”, Plato once wisely said. As far as I’m concerned, truer words have never been spoken. From phone stands, to sponge holders, to smartwatch touch languages, (and everything else I’ve tinkered with in between), I’ve many times experienced that age-old feeling: “there must be a better way to do X”, followed by countless hours spent trying to figure out that “better way”.
When coming up with Mbriks™, the “necessity” was fairly straightforward, (although perhaps not what you might think). No, my floors were not filling up with LEGO® block creations; instead, the impetus was the parental urge to keep an eye on my young kids while I was making dinner. They, understandably, wanted to play with their toys in the living room; I wanted them to be excited about hanging out near dad while I cooked. The solution, I thought, would be to get some cool magnetic gadgets that they could use on the refrigerator door. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I found no great options. There were magnetic gears, and magnetic letters and numbers of course, but neither option was all that engaging. (The magnetic gears, I should mention, are pretty cool; I just wish they actually caused something interesting to happen rather than just spin needlessly).
Then I thought of building blocks. Wouldn’t it be cool to build with them on the refrigerator? A lightbulb in my head began to grow dimly. The potential for a vertically mounted block structure that didn’t need support from the ground was intriguing; I glued a magnet to the underside of a Duplo® block but was unimpressed. With only one side of the block magnetic, I could only build in one orientation: studs facing out towards me. If only I could make all sides (and maybe even the edges) magnetic, then I could build out in any direction. I mulled this over for weeks until the idea hit me: the magnet should be untethered and on the block’s inside; allowing it to move around and exert its pull force through any of the block’s sides or edges.
Armed with this idea, I fired up my 3D printer and got to work. Somewhere along the line of 30+ interactions of prototypes, I was able to figure out how to get the magnet to position itself in the ideal spot along each side or edge. I also finally tackled the riddle of how to make the block’s stud side magnetic.
At last I was able to 3D print ten copies of a prototype that worked as desired. Immediately our fridge door filled up with fun LEGO® + Mbrik creations and I was thrilled.
Before long, however, our family moved into a home with a non-magnetic fridge. Thankfully, we have a steel door heading into our garage (and it’s in the kitchen!)